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Retired union boss champions workers causes

Donna Dewitt, retired union boss, champions workers causes

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    Position/organization: Retired president of the South Carolina chapter of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the nation's largest federation of trade unions.

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    City: Orangeburg, S.C.

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    Why she's protesting at the DNC: “Most people who are participating feel like neither (political) party is doing what they need to be doing to make sure there aren't just jobs but good quality jobs.”



CHARLOTTE, N.C. Donna Dewitt of Orangeburg, S.C., made national headlines in May when a video surfaced of her taking a baseball bat to a homemade piñata with S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley's face on it – an action she defends as a light-hearted response to Haley's campaign against unionization.

“It's a constant battle with her,” Dewitt said.

Dewitt, 63, who has spent more than 46 years fighting for labor rights, said she got her first taste of politics as a child.

Her grandfather and uncle were both long-serving sheriffs, so in election years, she traveled the county to campaign. Then when her childhood home burned to the ground, she temporarily moved in with her best friend, whose father, Marshall Williams, was a Democrat and the ranking state senator in the S.C. house.

“He was a big influence on my life,” Dewitt said. “It wasn't unusual before we went to church on Sunday, for a black person to come in with vegetables and fruits, and he would say ‘Come on in,' and discuss their problems with them in the living room.”

Witnessing those encounters encouraged Dewitt to fight against the mistreatment of workers and protest what she believes are weak labor laws in North and South Carolina.

Both are “right-to-work” states, which exclude many unions and keep public sector workers from collectively bargaining. “The event (DNC) has created the opportunity for so many people to speak out,” said Dewitt, who helped plan the Labor Day parade and Southern Workers Assembly. “But the fact that they chose to put the event in the state that has so much worker oppression … when they come out of this, they will have a movement that will move forward.”

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